There’s no hope for an easy summation of Graham Parke’s humor/suspense novel, but perplexity and unpredictability amounts to half the fun of this quirky and entertaining book. And if you’re unmindful of knowing what to make of the other half of your fun, your nimble fingers will meanwhile dance trippingly if unwittingly across a brisk and breezy investigative read.
The winds of change pick up in No Hope for Gomez! when Gomez Porter, a hapless and inexpert antiques dealer – his shop owner parents’ untimely death in an accident meant our untrained titular protagonist inherited the store quite unexpectedly – enters an experimental drug trial to pick up some extra cash, and is asked to keep a blog to record side effects and experiences.
Blog entry: Wondered about the experimental drugs interacting with airborne chemicals and leaving me unexpectedly dead.
Decided not to clean the bathroom.
The incidentals and incidents may or may not include such occurrences – or drug-induced delusions — as a sombrero and suit-wearing antiques dealer who comes in repeatedly attempting to buy Gomez’ supposedly collectible tax records: “Oh, yes. Yes indeed.” His eyes flitted about. “I was just admiring your… eh… boxes of 1987 import tax declaration rejections.”
But taxes, and all they entail, still seem as certain as the death Gomez increasingly flirts with, beginning with one of the trial participants, who goes into a coma. Initially thinking it might be due to the trial experiments, Gomez ultimately rationalizes that this may not be the case, and pending the results of his own fact-finding mission, he stays with the trial, in big part because of his initially unreciprocated infatuation with the lead research assistant, the beautiful Dr. Hargrove. But then Mr. Coma Man dies and the detective on the case goes missing. And it's not too long that yet another trial participant dies.
This time, paranoia strikes deep, with passions set adrift by Gomez’ confusion not only over what he surmises as something felonious at the research lab, but also the cavalier attitude of his by-now live-in girlfriend Dr. Hargrove, who should have been showing a lot more concern over the goings-on surrounding the trial and those she knew, and the violence that may be closing in on someone she supposedly cares about. Gomez tries to shake her up a little:
“Look,” I said, “you’re doing this trial to find unexpected side effects, aren’t you? You’re not expecting people to die, but they do. That seems like a pretty big side effect to ignore!”
It especially seems that Hargrove should empathize with Gomez’ apprehensions: early on in No Hope she asks him to provide a little security for her when she thought she was being followed. Which he did, becoming her designated “stalker-stalker.” But if his object of affection was feeling scared at that time, Gomez is now running scared, and allowing for the possibility of Hargrove’s implications or intentions in the deaths of the trial subjects, he is going underground to work out a conniving scheme, or at least buy himself some time to figure out who he can trust, or to find the truth, and maybe track down a little hope for himself.
A slim book written in the form of blog entries – as if our hero was actually downloading these to the research lab that tracks his reactions to test drugs — No Hope for Gomez! is a true page-chaser, consistently and coherently entertaining and droll. Parke’s wit is an appealingly dry and deadpan one, with a couple of amusing subplots and eccentric secondary characters tying up the loose ends – after all, there has to be a sidekick at the ready, and someone to mind the store!
Though the simple structure and fast and loose accessibility of parts of this debut novel makes one yearn for more carefully honed craftsmanship and characterization — I came to want to know more about Gomez' early life and was fascinated by the enigmatic shop assistant Hicks — Graham Parke nevertheless inspires the confidence that he is up to the task of turning out a cat-crusher should he want to; whatever the case I look forward to his next endeavor. In the meantime he is a skillful enough writer here to pull a little literary legerdemain now and then, even toward the conclusion. Just when you think the novel zigs, it zags – with heightened suspense that might round the corner of every laugh… hope or no hope for Gomez!
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